VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican scandal will get an unusually public airing next week when the butler who served the pope’s meals and helped him dress goes on trial for leaking Benedict’s private papers in the hope of cleaning up what he saw as “evil and corruption everywhere in the Church”.
The case, which led to the most serious crisis of Benedict’s papacy, involves the disclosure of sensitive documents alleging corruption in the Vatican and pointing to a power struggle at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church.
Paolo Gabriele, a 46-year-old father-of-three living a simple but comfortable life in the city-state, told investigators after his arrest in May that he believed a shock “could be a healthy thing to bring the Church back on the right track”.
The trusted manservant said he had acted because he wanted to help root out the corruption “because the pope was not sufficiently informed”, according to details made public when Gabriele was indicted in August.
Gabriele will go on trial on September 29 alongside Claudio Sciarpelletti, a Vatican computer expert, the Vatican said, and could be jailed for up to six years if found guilty of the charge of aggravated theft.
The Vatican for its part has called the revelations a “brutal” attack on the pope, while Benedict himself has merely alluded to personal pain, and criticised a media portrayal of the Vatican that “does not correspond to reality”.
Gabriele is accused of stealing the letters from Benedict’s desk and leaking them to reporters. His arrest capped nearly five months of intrigue and suspense as a string of documents and private letters found their way into the Italian media.
The most notorious of the letters were written to the pope by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, currently the Vatican’s ambassador to Washington, who was deputy governor of the Vatican City at the time.
In one, Vigano complains that when he took office in 2009, he discovered corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to outside companies at inflated prices.
Vigano later wrote to the pope about a smear campaign against him by other Vatican officials who were upset that he had taken drastic steps to clean up the purchasing procedures.
Despite begging not to be moved away from the Vatican, Vigano was later transferred to Washington by Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s number two.
Other leaked letters concerned the Vatican’s bank, which has been at the centre of several scandals in the last few decades.
It is not clear how long the trial, which the Vatican said will be covered by a journalists’ pool in a small courtroom, could last. Since the papal state has no prison, Gabriele would serve time in an Italian jail unless the pope pardons him.
Sciarpelletti is being tried on lesser charges of aiding and abetting the theft.
Editing by Kevin Liffey